Monday, August 02, 2004


Underbelly of Vancouver
Downtown Eastside


Hi All,

Yesterday I attended two festivals. The first was the Gay Pride festival and parade in the west end. The second was the Japanese festival in the downtown eastside. What was really interesting was the contrasts of these two festivals and the subsequent varying concepts of community.

While, attending the Pride parade with my friends Fern and Don, their daughter Tev and her friend Andrea was fun and enjoyable, the anticipation of the Pride parade's start was equally exciting. Billing itself as being the largest and best ever, I probably along with many others, were feeling intoxicated with suspense.

Of course, my friends and I had decided to eat first and chose Vera's burger shack on Denman, which is situated along the parade route. As we were finishing our burgers, along came the dykes on bikes. The dykes, a fixture of the parade, always in a gesture of abandon, free themselves from the rigors of an orderly parade procession and begin their antics well ahead of the parade. Its to signal the parade will soon start. Not many dykes on bikes this year were baring their breasts. Moreover, more and more men are joining the dykes in what appears to be a gesture of solidarity. One assumes the solidarity is connected to the big ole powerful machines they stride and ride on.

Running a bit late and realizing that it would be futile to grab a front row seat along the sidewalks of Denman, we decided to camp out on Vera's tiny patio and if needed, we could stand on chairs to observe the parade. The parade started out with a flourish. In a show of community, parade organizers paid tribute to an elder in the gay community, Mr Gary Penny. Gary stood along with his partner Brian on the back of an ordinary pick up truck. These two men led the parade. Gary and Brian co-owned and operated a number of happening gay spots in the West End. These included the hugely successful Hamburger Mary's and the Denman Station cabaret. Gary and Brian have contributed enormously to Pride and although they moved to Victoria a few years back, they continue to support their community. In Victoria, they opened a gay bar for the community. It was wonderful seeing the Pride board honor a Community Hero.

As the lengthy parade wound its way along Denman, observers and sightseers, were given a birds eye view of the Community in all its finery. Whether it was the Fabulous Janine Fuller marching with her staff of Little Sisters bookstore or Little Sisters owner Jim Deva riding on the Davie Village BIA float as Dorothy of Oz, one constant reminder was this parade is about the gay/lesbian/trans community celebrating its diversity. Its about Community strength.

And since the queer community is a reflection of the broader community, it was eye popping, mouth watering and visually pleasing to witness the heart and soul of the community strut its stuff. Whether it was the ever sexy drag queens like the irrespresible Pussy Willow, or the elegant Empress of Vancouver Estie Louder, to the enchanting buff boys and lipstik lesbians, I was reminded time and time again how much this community has given to the history of the City. I am also mindful of Gay Vancouver's losses and really appreciate the AIDS service organizations' floats.

As the parade soldiered on, the gay anthem, I am what I am, blasting from the speakers of many a float, I witnessed the magic and mirth of a truly amazing community. There was Mayor Campbell in his trademark skirt, the conservative Police Chief passing out rainbow frisbees, the Divalicious MP Hedy Fry strutting on 6 inch heels and not to be outdone Gay city Councilor, Tim Stevenson, donning a squirt and waving wildly to the masses as the crowd whistled, stomped, applauded and shouted their approval.

Intoxicated with glee as the parade reaches its half-way point, along comes another vision. Marching to an era gone by, an American twirling group from Chicago pumped the parade onlookers. While the boys routine was carefully choreographed and their music, New Orleans jazzy kinda fun, I was, however, put off by their costumes and batons. Yet here was the crowd applauding like you have never heard before. The ROTC as they call themselves wore as their costume of choice, military khaki pants and their batons were replica Rifles. They presented as military boys.

I thought oh my god is this some kind of joke. Doesn't this group realize War and the Military is offensive to most progressive thinking Canadians. What's more deplorable, is that the majority of Canadians feel the recent war that the USA engaged in was unnecessary and willful. Don't they understand the opposite of peace is war. Don't they understand that Canada is a peacekeeping nation. For this years' Pride organizers to allow this group carte blanche creative and marketing control in our community Pride is really sad for all of us. For a community that chooses BC day to celebrate, peace, diversity and respect within our ranks is awesome. This is our day to honor ourselves as a Community. But tarnishing this day and really troubling is the gay community's seemingly acceptance of a group of gay Yankees mirroring what soldiers look like, wear and use in war.

Moving along, trying to freeze out the parade's one blemish and thinking the Parade can redeem itself, much to my horror, happily marching in our parade are the corporate interests that comprise our City. One after another, one Corporate interest after another has proudly intermixed themselves in my Community Day. My Pride.

Hence what appears to me to be the corporatization of our Community Pride, I suspect will also have its drawbacks. It quite possible, it will also be its downfall.

Puzzling was the Starbucks group who had the largest marching unit of the parade. What a sight, all of them with matching Pink t' shirts. Happily marching along rounding out the parade's finish. As is tradition, festival watchers march along behind the last parade entry to the shores of Sunset beach where festivities, concerts and speeches are planned. I want to puke as I watch thousands of community members getting behind and following the Corporate butts of Starbucks. Yes the same Starbucks who opposed the rights of their workers to freely and democratically join a union. Starbucks as the Pied Piper, leading the way, no thanks, I choose to forgo the concert activities.

While I realize its expensive to put on a parade, I would think that our various levels of government should fund this day of Celebration. After all wasn't our municipal COPE party elected on a promise to turn around the image of Vancouver as a No fun city.

This is one of the few remaining festivals in our City and I don't want Corporations dictating, paying or determining our Pride. I, for one will look over the finances and see how much influence Corporate interests have over our Community Day.

So Pride organizers who comprise the Pride board and many who I get along with are nevertheless hereby put on notice. Community eyes will be watching so please carefully re-view parade optics when making your informed decisions around community issues. Do not allow Community Pride to become Corporate Pride.

Licking my wounds, off my friends and I head to another festival. Heart smack in the middle of Cracktown, Downtown Eastside is the longer running then Pride day, the Japanese Festival in all its charm, glory and history.

The Japanese festival located at what was once called the Powell Street Grounds, now re-named Oppenheimer park is a sharp contrast to the celebratory pride day I just left.

Feeling free to peruse the many tents which display local artisans and artifacts, designers and food of this vibrantly rich culture is empowering. There is a main stage set up where the traditional performances and performers teach and please us.

Here at the Japanese festival you won't see corporate interests displaying their wares. No Starbucks, No Hong Kong Bank, No USA military marching band. Instead you see third and fourth generation Japanese Canadians mingling and paying respect to the pioneers in their community. You witness countless volunteers serving up their traditional foods. You observe Community showcasing its Pride.

Basking in the hot sun, embracing the warmth, love, respect and tolerance emanating from one community's richness to another is awe inspiring. As I lay on the grass, listening and soaking up the culturally enriching entertainment, is the reminder of the poverty stricken neighborhood of the Downtown eastside surrounding me. Yet here at this Community festival there is a sense and mixture of hope, respect, tolerance, peace and love from one community to another.

It seems to me this type of community festival is one we should tout as what a true community Festival or Pride day should be.

Jamie Lee Hamilton